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Fire snarls commute traffic

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A late model custom travel coach exploded in flames Tuesday afternoon and was completely destroyed as the blaze backed up commuter traffic into Tracy.

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

POSTED January 22, 2014 1:17 a.m.

Fire completely engulfed a 35-foot-long motor coach Tuesday afternoon on northbound Interstate 5.

It was apparently caused by a short in the wiring. The fire destroyed most of the belongings of a retired Pennsylvania couple traveling up the state.

The driver told Lathrop-Manteca Fire Chief Gene Neeley that they were driving westbound on the Highway 120 Bypass when they took the transition ramp to northbound I-5.  He said that all the electrical went out in the vehicle as they entered the northbound freeway.  The retired middle school teacher said he got on the phone and called his emergency road service number as the fire broke out.

Flames had erupted from underneath the dashboard, he said, and they both got out of the vehicle as they came to a stop on the shoulder of the roadway some 300 yards south of Louise Avenue.  The couple said they emptied their small fire extinguisher with little affect in putting out the flames.  The quick thinking driver ran to the back of the coach and unhitched a Jeep they had in tow as a secondary vehicle.

The Lathrop-Manteca Fire Department called on Manteca for mutual-aid response that was challenged by the backed up freeway going home traffic.

“We did retrieve their check book and a wallet in a fire safe that had all their valued documents,” the chief said.  “We found a Lathrop hotel – the Days’ Inn – that gave them a discounted rate to stay the night and allowed their older dog to stay with them.”

Chief Neeley credited Lathrop Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal for checking the hotels in the city finding the hotel for them to spend the night and at a lesser cost to them.

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